A Discussion with Father Hans Zollner, President, Centre for Child Protection, Rome, Italy

With: Father Hans Zollner Berkley Center Profile

July 3, 2018

Background: As part of the Education and Social Justice Project, in July 2018 undergraduate student Mayeesha Galiba interviewed Father Hans Zollner, S.J., president at the Centre for Child Protection (CCP) in Rome, Italy. In this interview, Father Zollner discusses the CCP’s mission and pedagogy of safeguarding minors.

We talked a little bit about the CCP’s development up until now. Looking towards the future, how could the CCP better achieve its mission? What resources do you think the CCP could utilize to have a greater reach?

First, we are about to reform and revisit our programs. We started with a didactical reform of the diploma course; a new person that has joined the CCP team, a doctor of pedagogy, has helped us create a learner-centered approach. This new approach will be applied in our plans for the diploma, followed very closely by the licentiate program. At the next level, there will be more focus on the e-learning program.

What is the pedagogy of safeguarding?

The pedagogy of safeguarding means not only conveying and delivering content. More and more, it will mean what you do with the content and how you learn. We want the knowledge to not only stay in your brain and textbooks, but to become a reality. You can have all the possible protocol and guidelines. But the question is: How do we come from the head to the heart to the hands?

We also need to develop research projects in collaboration with others, beyond just the efforts of our doctoral students. We are recognized as the leading institution of the Catholic Church in safeguarding. But in the scientific world, you need also to pursue original research and we haven’t done so, at least not in an empirically validated way. However, we have written lots of articles, and some of those articles are evidence-based. For example, we’ve published the summary of the pilot phase.

In addition, we need to focus on our engagement with the digital world. I see the digital world as the biggest threat to children’s safety today. This includes sexual abuse matters involving adults and minors or involving minors and minors. Until October, I felt that nobody had any clue how to stop the tsunami that have been going on since the inception of the internet. This tsunami is rolling—ever bigger, ever faster. In India along, over the last couple of years, 500 million more people went online. Over half are below the age of 18; their parents have no clue whatsoever about the purpose, danger, and risks of the internet.

In the aftermath of the Child Dignity Congress, we established a rather informal child dignity alliance. We have seven working groups; two working groups are on research. I’m co-chairing with a professor from Johns Hopkins and with another one from Royal Ottawa Hospital. We three-chair one working group that would look into foundational research on the prevalence of pedophilia and pedophilic disorder. This means sexual disturbances of preference (sexual preference) and the efficacy of preventive measures. On both topics, you don’t have anything.

There’s been no research done on pedophilic disorder?

There has been research done on pedophilic disorder. However, the research is very particular and narrow. For example, there is very little usefulness for general policy. If you know how many pedophilic persons are out there, you can better gauge what intervention you would need. The outcomes of therapy programs or preemptive measures would need to validate the interventions. This is an area of method research and major concern, where we are already positioned because we were the main driving force. We are now the gathering institution for all those other working groups.

So the CCP serves as a meeting point?

Yes, we are a meeting point and the coordination happens here. Another important issue is the relationship with victims of clerical sexual abuse with the Church. Our main concern is that these victims receive the justice, support, and help that they deserve. Beyond that, a good number of victims are also willing to contribute to a healing process. However, within the Church, we have very few models for doing so. For example, how can victims be integrated into normal parish life? How do we listen to the voice of victims in our educational, social, pastoral, and spiritual ministries? This includes liturgy, counseling, and self-help groups. Finally, this is far away at the moment for us, but we could serve as a trauma therapy center for victims. 

 So the CCP would be a space for the victims to come and heal? 

Yes. The victims could come for healing, treatment, and assistance. Even further away for our capacities—and a huge question looming in the background—is the question of assistance to perpetrators. 

Restorative justice?

Yes, restorative justice would be between the two parties. The best prevention measure for perpetrators is that they receive proper attention so that they do not re-offend. Very often, people resent that the Church would offer some help to perpetrators. These people forget that when you offer support and help to perpetrators, you do prevention work. Once a priest is dismissed, out of ministry, or has concluded his treatment as a perpetrator, who looks after him? Who accompanies him? Who is supervising him? There are lots of open questions.

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